Keepers' Diaries, September 2019

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The month began in the most wonderful way possible, when on the 1st of September 14 year old Loijuk brought her newborn baby girl to the stockades before dawn, with doting nannies Naserian and Ithumbah vigilantly on hand. We named her firstborn Lili, a fitting name given that Loijuk was named after a swamp close to where she was rescued in a drought year in northern Kenya, though parched dry at the time. When it rains the swamp is transformed into a lush paradise, filled with water birds and carpeted with wild water lilies. 

When the dependent orphans came out of their stockades that morning, Mundusi and Galla were lucky enough to have the opportunity to interact with tiny Lili, still damp from the foetal sack. Loijuk didn't mind who played with her baby and she trusted the Keepers, her human family, implicitly, as she let the baby wander all about with the nannies watching closely, who she also trusts implicitly with the safety of her little one. Head Keeper Benjamin was able to have some very precious interaction with Lili and Loijuk as the Keepers, the dependent orphans and the whole SWT celebrated this wonderful event.  

Loijuk and Lili stuck around close to the Ithumba stockades for the rest of the month, joining up with some of the other ex-orphans from time to time like Olare’s herd, or sometimes with Yatta and her large ex-orphan herd. We were happy to note that Wendi is expecting another baby soon too. We did not seen her first born baby Wiva this month, who is three years old now, and we hope she is with the other ex-orphans and her nannies like Nasalot, her baby Nusu, Sidai, Chyulu, Lualeni, her baby Lulu, Galana, baby Gawa, Zurura, Makena, Murka, Makireti, Ishanga, Kilabasi, Bongo and Teleki who have not been seen in the past three months.

Olare and her dutiful followers which include Melia, Tumaren, Kandecha, Kalama, Kitirua and a wild female were present sporadically throughout the month as well, but normally when they did show up they chose to spend almost the entire day with the dependent orphans, browsing with them and trying to lure them into their games as well. 

Orwa and Bomani, who the Keepers noted became almost as present as the rising sun at the stockades this month, loved to partake in the morning lucerne feeding, and sometimes joined the dependent orphans at mud bath time as well. One day they joined in the morning Lucerne supplement feeding with Chemi Chemi and Turkwel, when big boy Tomboi arrived with his wild friend and joined them too. We saw Tomboi quite often this month as he frequented the water spots. 

Even after decades of raising elephants and being witness to their extraordinary ways, we still find ourselves mesmerized by their compassion and understanding of one another. In the early morning of the 13th September, our Keepers watched as a wild female, aged no more than ten years old, emerged from the east walking towards the Ithumba water troughs followed by skinny baby elephant just weeks old, lagging behind. The baby elephant appeared to be extremely hungry, and once he reached the water trough he even attempted to suckle from the bulls in a desperate fashion.  For some of the bulls this was obviously a very unnerving and unusual thing, but it was interesting to see them try to lift up their legs so as to avoid stepping on the baby. The whole dynamic was clearly wrong as the wild female was clearly too young for a calf and had no milk, and the baby was so desperate that he was charging around manically in his search of his mum and milk. The Keepers were observing the desperate scenes that unfolded and eventually, after the KWS Warden of the Northern Area of Tsavo came to witness the scene himself, the team were forced to intervene, and the wild female wasn’t aggressive at all when the team circled in to try and feed the baby. The little baby welcomed the hydration, and was desperate for both water and milk, and began to trail the Keepers everywhere. On close inspection the calf was looking rather battered all over his parched body and was very thin, and had obviously been without mothers’ milk for some days. Eventually the decision was made and the baby was rescued by air with a team of Keepers and taken to the Kaluku Nursery. We are under the impression the wild female led the orphaned baby to the stockades in the hope that our Keepers could feed and care for this young one too, as they have witnessed them doing every day, which even to us was an extraordinary episode to see unfold. Two days later a dead and lactating female was located near the Tiva River, and we think that may well have been his mother.

One recent development within our Ithumba dependent orphans is that Olsekki and Siangiki are testing their independence. They spent the night out with Orwa and Bomani one day and only time will tell when they will be feeling confident enough to stay out for longer periods of time, albeit always in the company of older orphans like Turkwel, Bomani, Orwa, Chemi Chemi or those in the ‘rebel’ herd Kithaka, Barsilinga, Garzi and Lemoyian . Olsekki and Siangiki have started the habit of sometimes walking away from the other orphans just before it is time to return home, accompanied by some of the older orphans mentioned, but more often than not they are still choosing to return to the stockades later at night.

The ‘rebels’ as they are affectionately referred to, Kithaka, Barsilinga, Garzi and Lemoyian accompanied by Turkwel now, still choose to do their own thing. They show up to mud bath when they feel like it and also return back to the stockades at night when they feel like it now too. Lemoyian, who had missed milk one day, decided to report early to wait for the car carrying the milk to the mud bath. Once the car arrived, Lemoyian received his share and tried to demand the missed share for the previous day. He was informed by the Keepers that it was his fault for not showing up the previous day and now that water was under the bridge! Lemoyian left reluctantly to join the wild bulls that were busy drinking water. Mutara’s herd were spotted on some days throughout the month too. This was Turkwel’s old herd, but she hasn’t returned to them just yet and chooses to spend most of her time with Orwa, Bomani, Olare’s herd and the rebel group remaining closer to home.

The dependent orphans have been enjoying the mud bath sessions this month on the very hot days as we hopefully build up for the rains which are due imminently. Ambo learnt to respect his elder females the hard way when he decided to challenge Naseku. Naseku didn't take the fight lightly given that Ambo is a young bull who only arrived a few months ago. She tackled Ambo ruthlessly making Ambo cry out for help as he tried to run away. No one dared to help and the other bulls just watched on as Ambo was disciplined. Mapia was also reprimanded by Malkia when he tried to hit baby Lili with his trunk. This didn’t go down well with Malkia who warned Mapia not to do such a thing again to such a small baby. This month some of our new arrivals to the Ithumba Unit have been learning from the others how to ride out the dry season as well, by practicing how to strip bark from a tree using their tusks. Ambo and Jotto demonstrated brotherly love by sharing a branch that Jotto had broken for the both of them to enjoy. Roi created a scene at mud bath one day when, after finishing her two bottles, she turned quickly and picked up a third one. The Keepers surrounded her and managed to pull the bottle from her, but only after Roi had finished a quarter of the milk! Mundusi still loves to challenge the other bulls in a pushing fight, and age-mate Pare is usually his sparring partner of choice.

September 2019 day to day

01 Sep

It was a blessed morning when Loijuk brought her first wild born baby Lili to the stockade in the morning. Loijuk was in the company of Naserian and Ithumbah. When the orphans left the stockade, Mundusi and Galla got the opportunity to interact with tiny baby Lili. The inexperienced Loijuk didn't mind about who played with her baby. She let the baby wander all about with the nannies who she trusts completely. Shortly later the orphans left for browsing leaving Loijuk and her group at the stockade still feeding on lucerne. Mundusi, who loves pushing games, engaged Pare in a strength testing exercise that ended in a draw. Esampu played with Naseku while Kamok played with her friend Oltaiyoni. 

At mud bath time, the orphans were joined by eight wild bulls. The orphans had their milk bottles and some water before walking back out to the bush, deciding to skip wallowing even though the wild elephants were really enjoying it. In the afternoon, the orphans settled to browse in between west of Ithumba Hill and Imenti area and in the evening passed by the mud bath for an evening cooling-off. After the orphans did some soil dusting before heading back to the stockade. 

Lili standing under Loijuk

Mundusi and Pare strength testing

Esampu playing with Naseku